Andre Griggs, left, coordinator of the Le Grand Restorative Justice League, speaks to students at a meeting at Le Grand High School in Le Grand, Calif., on Aug. 25, 2015. The program trains students to offer support to peers who may be facing challenges at school, home or on the streets. Andrew Kuhn Merced Sun-Star file
Le Grand High School restorative justice leaders will travel to Washington, D.C., this weekend to show White House officials how their program could be a national model for reducing suspensions and expulsions and helping prevent students from ending up in prison.
The school has hosted a restorative justice conference for several years and has seen the program help cut suspension and expulsion rates at the school.
Restorative justice focuses on dialogue through peer mediation to work through conflicts, find the root of a problem and make changes to prevent repeated problems.
Le Grand is part of a statewide coalition, the California Restorative Schools Coalition, that gave a presentation to the California Teachers Association earlier this year. The presentation focused on how restorative justice can be used in tandem with other behavioral programs, such as Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, said Andre Griggs, Le Grand’s restorative justice coordinator.
Le Grand will be the only school represented at the White House, according to a news release from Fresno Pacific University’s Discipline that Restores program. Le Grand will send a team that includes Griggs, Principal Javier Martinez, a conflict resolution leader, a restorative justice leader and a student panel member.
The team will leave Saturday and begin meeting with officials from the U.S. Department of Education on Sunday and Monday to explain how and why the program works.
“The White House is looking to hear how to do this on a larger scale,” Martinez said.
Le Grand has become a model for using restorative justice practices, Martinez said, and the program has transformed the school climate in Le Grand. In the past couple of years, the school has nearly eliminated school suspensions and expulsions.
“We want to send the message when we get to Washington that restorative justice equips students with coping mechanisms and resolves conflicts so that when they leave high school, they know how to confront challenges,” said Fernando Maciel, a conflict resolution leader at the school.
Destiny Murillo, a senior at the school who is on the school’s restorative justice panel, said the practices have helped her become a better person and have helped others reach agreements.
“It helped me see that there’s two different sides to everything,” she said.
Rebecca Ybarra, a restorative justice leader, said the program also has helped give students a voice and encouraged them to advocate for change not only at their school, but also in their community.
“With our restorative justice league, we’re sending the message that students can have a voice and a place of leadership to support and advocate for their peers and partner with their teachers,” Griggs said.